I met Susan Van Dusen at a Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp in 2015, the first time I attended. I was instantly drawn to her dry humor. She can make me laugh with a look. Like many authors, Susan’s journey to publication was long but not without its rewards. The recent publication of The Missing Hand is a shining example of Susan’s outstanding style and subtle humor. Here’s my review:
In Susan Van Dusen’s new cozy mystery, The Missing Hand, Julia, the least observant Jewish woman in Crestfall, USA, reluctantly joins a Torah study meeting to humor her best friend. There, she meets an eclectic group of characters. One of the women brings with her a valuable antique she’d recently inherited from her grandfather, an immigrant from the old country. The Rabbi explains the bejeweled wand with a hand-shaped pointer at one end is the instrument one uses to keep one’s place when reading from the Torah. A week later, the yad disappears. Before she can say Oy Vey, Julia is hosting Torah group in her home and helping Rabbi Fine solve the mystery of the missing yad. The story is fast paced, intriguing, and great fun owing to Julia’s quick wit. But the characters are the real stars, charming, flawed, and genuine. The story may be framed in Jewish practices, but the message of atonement, forgiveness, and redemption are universal. I look forward to Van Dusen’s next book. I hope it’s a sequel!
And here’s the publisher’s summary: A valuable heirloom has been stolen from a member of Julia Donnelly’s Torah study group. Grievous sins of the past have pushed their way into the present. Murder, distrust, and ill-gotten gains from World War II Bohemia threaten the peaceful Jewish community of Crestfall, Illinois. Julia, wife of this small town’s mayor and mother of two young adopted sons, is pressed into service to find the bejeweled heirloom which is called a yad, a Hebrew word which means ‘hand’ in English. It is a rod-shaped item with a bulb on the top and a hand with a pointing finger at the bottom that helps keep one’s place when reading the Torah. This particular yad is covered with a fortune’s worth of jewels. With no experience except watching TV detective shows, Julia and Torah group leader Rabbi Fine attempt to solve the mystery and address the misery it causes. After finding the yad, another mystery, much deeper, explores good and evil in the character of the man who brought the yad to America and escaped punishment for his crimes after the war by posing as a Jewish immigrant. Heady stuff for a cozy, but humor takes the sting out. The Donnelly family goes at 90 miles an hour, hollering, hugging, and loving. It all works out in the end. Remember, we all have our own michegas. As we say in Yiddish, Plotsn zolstu-fun nachos. May you explode from pleasure after reading this book.